Reporters and editors have long believed that terms such as “inmate,” “felon” and “offender” are clear, succinct and neutral. But a vocal segment of people affected by the criminal justice system argue that these words — and any other words that define human beings by their crimes and punishments — are dehumanizing.
The Language Project serves three purposes. First, through a series of powerful pieces by and about people with intimate experience with incarceration, we show the human impact of the words we choose. Second, our guide, “What Words We Use — and Avoid — When Covering People and Incarceration,” makes public our decision to avoid labels such as “inmate,” in favor of language that follows the logic of “person-first” language. Third, we provide alternatives to the labels.